Better in every way, but not best
No matter who you are, where you reside, or what you do, competition is a part of your daily existence. It's integral to relationships, academics, sports, business, and countless other aspects of our lives.
It's also the driving force behind the development of vehicles like the 2011 Volvo S60. A respectable but nerdy four-door in 2009, this sedan from the Chinese-owned Swedish car company reemerges for 2011 with a style and attitude that's as new as the safety technology it delivers. From its engine to its chassis and design, the redesigned S60 is simply better in every way. Think of it as the second-string kid who spent a summer working his tail off in hopes of being the first-string quarterback when the next football season rolled around. For the S60, great strides were indeed made during its off-season, but as we recently discovered while attending a Volvo-sponsored test drive, improving yourself doesn't necessarily correlate with beating the competition.
Photos courtesy of Volvo
Volvo has long been recognized as a somewhat quirky Swedish brand with an undeniable focus on safety. Its models were thought to be as solid as granite, but also looked like four-wheeled bricks.
That's changed substantially in recent years, but never so much as with the 2011 S60. Replacing the rather staid 2009 S60 is a sedan with bold but stylish body lines, swept-back headlights that seem to be all the rage these days, LED marker lights, and the overall shape of what we've come to know as the four-door coupe. It's an attractive, sporty design, if not groundbreaking.
Inside, the 2011 Volvo S60 features the waterfall instrument panel that's used in the company's other models, a revised gauge cluster and swooping door handles, all of which gives the interior an upscale and uncluttered appearance.
Volvo is offering its redesigned 2011 S60 in one configuration, the T6 AWD, with a starting price of $37,700. As the name suggests, power comes from a turbocharged six-cylinder engine, and an all-wheel-drive system is standard fare.
Given its premium-brand status, it might come as little surprise to learn that the 2011 S60 also features a sporty, leather-wrapped steering wheel with integrated audio and cruise controls; an eight-way, power-adjustable driver's seat; a sound system that includes HD radio, six months of Sirius satellite service, and auxiliary and USB ports; Bluetooth connectivity; and leather upholstery.
In addition to that impressive array of amenities, every 2011 Volvo S60 will be equipped with Volvo Sensus infotainment system, which includes a seven-inch display screen, a control dial on the steering wheel, and secondary buttons on the instrument panel.
For S60 shoppers who want a bit more, Volvo offers a relatively short list of packages and stand-alone options. Among those that we'd suggest considering are the Blind Spot Warning System ($700) and the FOUR-C Active chassis setup ($750) that allows drivers to kick the suspension's sport factor up a notch.
A Climate Package ($800), with requisite heated seats and windshield washer nozzles, is a must for those living in cold environs, while the Premium Package ($1,500) adds features that have become commonplace in this segment, such as a power moonroof and HID headlights. And, like any legitimate premium sedan, the 2011 Volvo S60 is available with a Multimedia Package ($2,700) that boasts a 650-watt surround-sound system, a rearview camera, and a navigation unit with real-time traffic information.
One option not listed in the previous section is the Technology Package ($2,100). This is where Volvo uses the 2011 S60 to showcase its bounty of safety features, including intelligent cruise control and a lane-departure warning system. But the focus on the S60's occupants doesn't stop there. Driver Alert Control is engineered to recognize and sound a warning when a change in driving patterns occurs (such as when a tired driver starts weaving within a lane), while Distance Alert works with the intelligent cruise control system to monitor the distance between the S60 and the car traveling just ahead.
Another potentially life-saving feature is Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake. Radar and sensors determine when impact with another car is imminent, at which point the driver will hear a warning signal and, at speeds up to 22 mph, full brake pressure will be applied. Taking that idea one step farther, Volvo's new Pedestrian Detection technology uses a front-mounted, 180-degree camera and advanced software to recognize people in, or walking into, the S60's path. Again, full brake pressure is applied at speeds up to 22 mph.
Like its primary competitor, the BMW 335i, the 2011 Volvo S60 gets its groove on courtesy of a turbocharged, inline six-cylinder engine. The 3.0-liter mill generates 300 horsepower and 325 lb.-ft. of torque. A standard all-wheel-drive system distributes that grunt to all corners of the S60 via a six-speed automatic gearbox with sport and manual-shift modes. The EPA claims drivers will see 18 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. Yet, unlike most boosted powerplants, the S60's turbocharged 3.0-liter is designed to run on relatively cheap 87-octane gasoline.
Along with that engine comes what Volvo calls a Dynamic chassis. This standard setup is designed to deliver sporty, capable handling. An optional Touring chassis softens things up a bit, whereas the available FOUR-C Active chassis aims to satiate the demands of driving enthusiasts with comfort, sport and advanced settings.
Thanks to its turbocharged six-cylinder engine, the 2011 Volvo S60 delivers the performance required of a premium sedan. Around town, the 3.0-liter and six-speed automatic transmission combo offers up smooth and plentiful power; roll on the gas pedal to build up speed on a longer stretch of pavement, and those 300 horses go about their business without fuss. However, goose the throttle for a spirited green-light takeoff and you'll feel the S60 respond quickly, though it doesn't really light up until the tachometer registers 2,000 rpm or so. This wasn't much of an issue during our drive on public roads, but that turbo lag was more noticeable when heading into straightaways during a track exercise.
As noted, the six-speed gearbox offered little to fault, though its sport mode didn't hold the revs as high as we would've liked. As a result, our call for extra power during aggressive driving was answered not with immediate delivery, but a poorly timed downshift.
Though Volvo offers its 2011 S60 with three different suspension setups - Dynamic, Touring, and FOUR-C Active - none of the cars available to us featured the relatively soft-tuned Touring option. For testing on public roads, we drove an S60 with the standard Dynamic chassis. The slightly stiff ride rewarded us with capable handling in the corners, though we did notice some understeer and limited body roll. Around town, the effects of rough pavement made their way to the cabin, but not disturbingly so. Braking performance was always laudable, characterized by smooth modulation and the absence of any fade after some very hard stops. The electric steering system also deserves praise for serving up ample helpings of road feel and response. Using Volvo Sensus, drivers can choose between three settings that make the steering feel heavier or lighter, though the S60 must be stopped to make change the selection.
Our highway drive ended at the Oregon Raceway Park in the booming metropolis of Grass Valley. That's where we put the hammer down in 2011 Volvo S60's equipped with the FOUR-C Active chassis set to sport mode. The track test highlighted the S60's strengths in braking and steering, yet also showcased the aforementioned understeer and turbo lag when getting back on the throttle.
One of the primary complaints with the previous Volvo S60 centered on a lack of rear-seat leg room. That malady has been addressed by a longer wheelbase that affords an extra two inches for rear passengers' walking sticks. Overall dimensions proved plenty for a six-foot-tall tester, and you won't hear any complaints from us regarding the comfort of the bucketed split bench seat. Unless, that is, we were forced to sit on the center hump for any real distance.
The front chairs are equally inviting, proving supportive after several hours of driving. Welcome touches include a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, a generous sampling of soft-touch surfaces, and power adjustments for the driver.
Those are the pros. Our list of cons includes door and front-center armrests that are thin on padding, increased rear leg room that's still behind the competition, and a manual lumbar knob for the driver that's hard to reach and turn.
BMW has its iDrive. Mercedes-Benz has COMAND. Volvo has Volvo Sensus. It's the infotainment system that makes its debut in the 2011 S60. Like its competitors, Volvo Sensus serves as a central command point for the S60's many driver-selected settings, the optional navigation system, the car's myriad safety features, and the components you use every time you drive, like the stereo and climate controls. Yet, unlike others you'll find on the market, Volvo Sensus is controlled by a small dial on the right spoke of the steering wheel instead of one placed on the center console.
The system uses a seven-inch touch screen set back above the instrument panel, so there's little issue with glare. Most of the functions are intuitive, though we did have one occasion when the sound system's volume control didn't respond (a restart of the S60 solved the problem). As a bonus for those of us who may prefer relatively old-fashioned buttons and dials, well, the 2011 Volvo S60 has those, too, so you can do things like adjust the fan speed without entering the Sensus realm.
There's no denying that the 2011 Volvo S60 marks a new era for the brand. The styling is wholly modern, the engine specs are on par with the best in its class, and the areas of luxury and sport have been addressed equally. And there's the competitive price to consider. For Volvo enthusiasts and those wanting the best in safety technology, the 2011 S60 is the bee's knees.
On the other hand, the redesigned S60 comes up short when viewed as a genuine sport sedan. A number of competitors deliver a more engaging driving experience, with superior performance and handling. If these are primary buying-decision factors for you, ultimate satisfaction will likely be found beyond the borders of your local Volvo dealership.